The idea sprouted when I was about to leave New York. I’d been living with my high school friend and fellow writer Olivia in Brooklyn, finishing my MFA and pretty much living a writer’s dream. We both loved the most writerly city on earth. We loved the plays and poetry readings, the artisanal doughnuts and dark bars crammed with storytellers. Over the few years of our roommate-ship, we’d played with the idea of founding a literary magazine. We had always wanted to shape the vision of a journal of our own. But then I was due to move back to my hometown of Boston. How could we possibly maintain and fund a new journal when spread across the East Coast? Was it possible, in today’s wired world, to make a journal with a cohesive vision, when its co-editors would only meet in person a handful of times a year?
We decided that not only was it possible; it would be what made us unique.
Two Cities’ title and entire governing vision sprang from the familiarity both of us had with multiple cities. So many of us out there were leading multi-city experiences, we realized. Here on the East Coast, all our writer friends were in the same boat, shuttling back and forth up that Northeast corridor in Bolt Buses or terrifying Chinatown buses or throwing out an occasional arm and a leg for the train. We knew the commute; so much of our lives had been defined by that long journey. We’d had long-distance relationships stretched across that coast; we’d gone to college in one city and then hurried back home for holidays. This was what modern life felt like for us: being stretched, walking tightropes between different regions of our lives.
Once we figured out that our biggest liability would make us who we were, we ran with the idea. We used the idea of “bridging gaps” as a guideline for the kinds of work we published. We looked for stories and poems that gave us the experience of urban life, but that also crossed genres, boundaries, or realities in new and exciting ways. In our first issue, we published a collaboration between an artist and a poet, a team who integrated their work together much like William Blake’s etchings. We published stories with surprise endings and poems that blended nature and the city, or high and low concerns. The unfamiliar juxtaposition was all.
Using the convenient tools of technology helped us bridge the gaps behind the scenes. Olivia and I schedule weekly Skype meetings; we collaborate and make notes to each other using Submittable; we email back and forth with thoughts. We used a Kickstarter campaign to launch our magazine, and then held parallel (but not simultaneous) launch parties in both New York and Boston. Having a two-pronged headquarters has opened up the accessibility of our magazine as well; with our double reach, we’ve received submissions from the old Brooklyn enclaves, but also have dug up Boston writers too. And we’re open to writing that comes from anywhere and is about pretty much anything. Having more than one center of operations gives submitters a little more openness and accessibility. The magazine is not just for that elite huddled group in New York; it’s open to city-dwellers (or rural writers, for that matter) everywhere.
As the publication continues to grow, the center of its focus continues to change as well. A job change had me moving to Chicago, another great literary city, but because of the way we’ve set up the magazine, we’re not rooted to one spot; it’s easy just to pack up the bandwagon and roll on. Our magazine reflects the strange rootlessness that today’s generation of writers feel; either that, or we experience a double- and triple-rootedness, a connection to a dozen new homes. Our magazine can address the double-identities that immigrants or bi-racial people feel, or it can speak to the weary life of the commuter. Life in our stories always seems to be happening when people are struggling to bridge the gap between their dreams and their realities, or between their present and their past, or their home and their journey outward and away.
Running a long-distance magazine can feel like a long-distance relationship. It’s important to establish rituals and routines, with our regular meetings, our established items on the agenda, and so on. But it’s also important to leave time for brainstorming and wool-gathering. That work is often done when we are out of touch with another, but when we re-connect, we pull out the notes and excitedly share what we’ve come up with. Like a relationship, we need time alone and time together. But it’s always with excitement that we re-connect across the miles and see what’s showed up in the inbox for the next issue.